What flashed through my mind were images of North Korea. There, in a real totalitarian state, children are bred like livestock in labor camps. They are taught to betray their parents. They are worked to death.
The Kim family dynasty — founder Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, who died in December, and Kim Jong Un, the third-generation successor — has presided over this human rights catastrophe for more than half a century without provoking much interest, understanding or outrage from the American public.
Make-believe dystopias, it seems, are easier on our eyes and kinder to our conscience. In "The Hunger Games," the evil regime is no match for Katniss Everdeen, played by the well-nourished Jennifer Lawrence. But in North Korea's labor camps, the captives are always hungry and the games are always rigged.
There are about 200,000 inmates in six camps, the largest of which is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. According to the testimony of camp survivors, prisoners live and die without soap, socks, underwear, toilet paper or sanitary napkins. They are forced to do hard labor while subsisting on a starvation diet of corn, cabbage, salt — and the occasional rat. As they age, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and they hunch over at the waist. They usually die of hunger-related illness before turning 50.
North Korea says the camps do not exist. Its diplomats refuse to discuss them. But they are clearly visible on Google Earth. Had the movie audience been interested, they could have used their smartphones and found high-resolution satellite pictures of the camps.
I learned about daily life in these camps from Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person known to have been born in one of them and escape to the West. Shin was born in Camp 14 in 1982 after guards selected his mother and father for a "reward marriage" and instructed them to have sex.